GP2 Series

Three Lions: The Trio Of British F1 Hopefuls Battling In GP2

5 Mins read
James Calado, Max Chilton and Jolyon Palmer - Photo Credits: GP2 Media Service

All the attention at the British Grand Prix this weekend will be on home heroes Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

But also on track at Silverstone will be the three Englishmen who've been fighting it out in the GP2 Series this season as they try to impress the people that matter in Formula 1.

James Calado, Max Chilton and Jolyon Palmer have all enjoyed some success already in 2012, and as they enter the second half of their campaigns they'll be hoping to add to their silverware on home soil this weekend.

Calado comes into the weekend third in the standings in what is his rookie campaign in GP2. It's an impressive achievement, particularly given the two men ahead of him – Davide Valsecchi and Luiz Razia – are in their fifth and fourth years in the category respectively.

From the village of Cropthorne in Worcestershire, Calado finished runner-up to Jean-Eric Vergne in British Formula 3 in 2010 and then second to Valtteri Bottas in the GP3 Series in 2011. While Vergne will line up on the F1 grid and Bottas contest Friday practice this weekend, Calado is still working hard to get his place on the top table.

But while his two previous campaigns have certainly been good, he's performing even better having stepped up to GP2 with the Lotus GP operation run by the highly-successful ART Grand Prix firm.

After his reverse grid win in the non-championship race at Abu Dhabi at the end of last year, Calado repeated the feat at the 2012 season opener in Malaysia – another venue he'd never raced at before.

After a further podium finish during the Bahrain double-header, he claimed a maiden pole position at Barcelona, but would have to settle for second in the feature race after being overtaken through the mandatory pitstops.

Monaco should have produced another podium finish in the sprint race, but contact with another driver at the narrow entry to Ste Devote at the start of the race gave him a damaged front wing, and although he escaped the incident in second place he would have to retire from the race – his first non-finish in 57 races.

James Calado - Photo Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

Calado has had one of the best debut campaigns in recent years – Photo Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

Two weeks ago saw a return to Spain and the Valencia Street Circuit, and he again claimed pole. This time he looked set for a commanding win until a safety car eliminated his lead and caused him to drop down the order when he made his pitstop – something all the other frontrunners had already done having not been able to conserve their tyres.

He inherited the reverse grid pole for Sunday once Valsecchi ahead of him was penalised, giving him a second chance. This time though he was unable to stretch his lead, which led to him receiving a hit from Rio Haryanto when the Indonesian made a move for the lead. Calado retained the lead, but as he struggled for pace he was passed on the final lap. Second still moved him to third in the standings, 45 points away from the leading pair.

Calado is backed by the Racing Steps Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation without a bottomless pit of money. And with GP2 budgets notoriously high, Calado doesn't have the sort of time that rivals like Valsecchi and Razia have had to nail GP2.

The only previous Racing Steps driver in GP2 was Oliver Turvey, who after one year in GP2 in 2010 that saw him finish sixth overall was forced to settle for a development role at McLaren.

2012 could be Calado's only crack at GP2, so he needs to keep impressing over the remaining six race weekends to boost his chances of joining Vergne, Bottas et al. in F1. A home win at Silverstone this weekend could be vital.

Chilton's just two points behind Calado. The racer from Reigate in Surrey is in his third season in GP2, and although he'd had a difficult previous two campaigns, he's now proving his talent by scoring a good number of points more than fellow third-year drivers like Fabio Leimer and Marcus Ericsson who came into GP2 with titles in the lower formulae and were expected to be amongst the title contenders in 2012.

But while those two have struggled with off-pace weekends, Chilton's consistency has been remarkable. He's finished in the top seven in 11 of the 12 races so far, and qualified in the top ten in every round.

Max Chilton - Photo Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

Chilton is putting himself in the shop window of the F1 teams – Photo Credit: Alastair Staley/GP2 Media Service

But unfortunately he's been so consistent in his results that he's only nudged onto the podium on two occasions – the season opener in Malaysia and the sprint race in Monaco, which he had the speed to win had he not lost time behind a hobbled Calado.

Indeed, he's certainly showed his pace, qualifying on the front row in Monaco. But he's still been left wanting in the races.

He is however stringing together results and staying out of trouble more than those with greater experience. Pushing that little bit harder could just yield some even better results. But could it also end in damaged bodywork and a whole load of frustration?

While the opportunities he was given last year to sample a Force India may not have been down to his results very much, he's now doing a good job of proving what it takes to compete at the highest level. With the Carlin team that's owned by his wealthy father Grahame having tied up with Marussia this year, that dream F1 drive could be a real possibility next year.

Chilton will hope that Silverstone will finally bring victory, and that he can turn consistent frontrunning into consistent podium results for the remainder of the season.

The third contender is Jolyon Palmer, who's had a season of highs and lows in 2012. The son of Jonathan and runner-up in the FIA Formula Two Championship in 2010, Palmer, like Chilton, endured a point-less debut season in GP2.

A move to iSport International promised much better for 2012. But a recurring mechanical issue dogged the first four weekends of the season, leading to two non-starts and just a handful of points.

Jolyon Palmer - Photo Credit: Octane Photographic

Palmer has displayed frontrunning pace – Photo Credit: Octane Photographic

Unable to locate the problem, his team built up a new car for Monaco, and their work immediately paid dividends with Jolyon on the pace all weekend. A lightening start from third to first before the first corner in the sprint race then helped him to drive to a maiden win.

Any hopes of maintaining that form in Valencia came to nothing however. Again on the pace on Friday, he was spun around early in the feature race. His recovery drive ended with an overly-optimistic move that led to him sending a rival into a barrel roll. Sunday's race again ended with a collision, this time after an argument with Johnny Cecotto Jr over a piece of track on the start-finish straight.

He may only be 13th in the standings at present, but the man from Southwater in West Sussex has showed that with a fully-functioning car he can mix it on pace with his compatriots Calado and Chilton and the rest of the frontrunners.

A run of clean races will enable him to convert that pace into some top results, and bring him up into the top ten of the standings and beyond.

While a Formula 1 seat for 2013 would be a bit ambitious, the pace he's shown is indicative that he will be real contender in GP2 next year, at which point doors will start opening.

Glory on home soil this weekend could get him that foot in the door even earlier.

At the start of a big couple of months for numerous young British athletes, these Three Lions could kick it off in winning ways at the home of British motorsport.

  • Free Practice at Silverstone takes place at 11:55 BST on Friday, with Qualifying at 16:00. The Feature Race is at 14:40 on Saturday, with the Sprint Race at 09:30 on Sunday.
  • All of the sessions will be shown live on Sky Sports F1 HD in the UK.
  • will have the latest news, results and reaction throughout the weekend.
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About author
Peter joined the TCF team in September 2010 and covers GP2 and GP3 along with WTCC and Formula Two. You can find him on twitter at @PeteAllen_
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